Toto Wolff has admitted that Fernando Alonso is on the shortlist of potential drivers to fill the vacant Mercedes seat left by Nico Rosberg’s sudden retirement.
For many F1 fans, seeing Alonso back in a front-running car – and paired up with Lewis Hamilton once again – would be something to get very, very excited about. Despite not having the car to compete up at the front during his last two years at McLaren his performances have still been pretty amazing, and Wolff still rates the Spaniard highly.
Speaking to Sky Sports, Toto Wolff said of Alonso: “You have to consider Fernando, he is a driver I respect a lot. He combines talent, speed and experience. It’s all there. But he is in a contract with McLaren-Honda at the moment and we just need to weigh all the other options up.”
Although Alonso still has one year left on his contract with McLaren, we’ve seen in the past that contracts can be broken if certain performance clauses haven’t been met, or if enough money is involved. Despite having put two years into the McLaren-Honda project Fernando would surely relish the chance to join a team that gives him the chance to win races and the championship again.
However in an interview with Sky Sports earlier this week McLaren CEO Zak Brown insisted that Alonso was still under contract to them and wouldn’t be going anywhere: “We have a contract with Fernando and he is very happy. Obviously he wants to be winning races, as do we, but I am not worried about that scenario. We are very comfortable where we are at.”
When Alonso signed for McLaren Ron Dennis said “He has a straight three-year contract with us, with no options.” On that basis it seems like Fernando won’t be leaving McLaren, but Ron was notorious for being economical with the truth so chances are there is some way Alonso can wriggle his way out of it if he wants to.
With Vettel recently reiterating that he’s contracted to Ferrari, and Ricciardo and Verstappen unlikely to want to leave Red Bull, it seems like Mercedes-backed Pascal Wehrlein will be the front-runner for the seat if Alonso proves to be unavailable.
Whoever they choose, Toto made it clear they would not be asked to act as a number two driver to Hamilton: “We will maintain the system we have. Both drivers will have equal status and equal opportunity to the best of our abilities. We owe it to the fans. You can’t have a pecking order.”
That’s good news, then. Although whether someone like Wehrlein is good enough to compete with Hamilton in the first place remains to be seen. That’s part of what makes it all so exciting, though!